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Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

Thursday 1st April 2010

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Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

Malaysian Grand Prix Preview

Andrew Davies is looking forward to rain, ice creams and the latest instalment of Hamilton vs His Tyres...

Excuse me for a second while I reflect on the many glorious Malaysian GPs I have enjoyed over the past five years - there, that took as long as it would have taken you to read. In truth, I haven't watched any of the last five Malaysian GPs so I'm coming at it very much like one of the new teams - with zero data. But the right size fuel tank.

I have nothing against Sepang, it's just that like a lemming with a winter sports habbit, I get an annual urge to rush up to a mountain and jump off it. And it's usually at Easter. Hence Mr.Gill is left with the task of writing Winners and Losers, and then copying it and using the format elsewhere.

Last time I looked at Sepang it was getting very bumpy in some of the braking zones, which for a new circuit (at the time) was a bit strange. By now they should have resurfaced it because it would surely have degraded to the condition of one of those auto proving grounds, the kind of section they test production cars on to check the life of the suspension elements.

Perhaps the monsoon rain is partly responsible and with the start time moved back to 4pm from last year we should be available to avoid the Old Testament conditions that was enjoyed by the drivers. "It always rains about this time in the afternoon" locals were heard to mutter after the rain chaos, but obviously nobody dared tell that to Bernie beforehand.

The teams re-assemble a week after the joy of Oz. Melbourne was hugely enjoyable for all kind of reasons, but most of the fun was to be had before half distance. Now I know that's true of most F1 races, and it was fun watching Lewis and Mark and Nico rush up to the back of Fernando Alonso. The fact that they couldn't do anything when they got there on tyres that were 25+ laps fresher is an indication of how safe Bridgestone are playing it.

There have been stories about FOTA asking for more marginal tyres, but Bridgestone aren't stupid. They have seen one massive Japanese company, Toyota, get the worst publicity imaginable for their failing cars. They don't want to provide tyres that wear down quickly, throw cars off the road, and have drivers blame the tyres for their accidents.

It might be different if we had two tyre manufacturers in F1 but Max Mosley did his very best to stop F1 becoming a tyre war and all the speed implications that that entails.

So the quick fix of 'edgy' tyres is unlikely to be the solution to the lack of overtaking. At Sepang, with wide corners where different lines can be taken, there is the chance that we might get some progress. Also, with track temperatures of up to 55C the tyres take one hell of a pounding. With all that monsoon rain around, the track is unlikely to be dusty and so drivers can explore all kinds of entries and exits without stuffing their tyres.

With some high speed corners, Ferrari and Red Bull should again be up in the timesheets with McLaren having good race pace thanks to using their wing-stalling f-hole down the two long straight. Mercedes are awaiting the results from their next "significant" step up.

What was interesting about the aftermath of Melbourne was the fact that Red Bull's brake manufacturer, Brembo, were very keen to point out that Sebastian Vettel didn't exit the race thanks to a brake failure.

They issued a press release which said, "Red Bull Racing has confirmed that Sebastian Vettel retired from the Australian Grand Prix after the torque drive between the front left axle and wheel was lost." It's unusual to have a front suspension failure on a circuit where there's not a lot of kerb bashing, so was this a failure of Red Bull's system for lowering and raising the car...?

As David Coulthard is paid licence-payer's money to comment on these things he should tell us.

The individual team battles are already hotting up with Rosberg vs Schumacher, Button vs Hamilton and Alonso vs Massa all waiting for their next instalment. Schumi almost had the legs of Nico last race and he's good in high-speed corners, so that bodes well. Hamilton needs to be free to make his own disastrous tyre choice, just so he can see how hard it is.

Meanwhile it's the Alonso vs Massa battle that is the most intriguing. Fernando has never done very well in situations with high achieving team-mates, especially when they don't get out of the way when he's on their tail. Think back to the Canadian GP when he was yelling at the Renault team to get Fisichella out of the way and the team radioed back "no, you have to overtake him."

Qualifying against Nelson Piquet, Fernando's had an easy time of it, but Felipe Massa is a talented one-lap specialist and will probably edge him in the qualifying stakes over the course of the season. That doesn't bode well in a year where overtaking is tough and overtaking a stubborn team-mate even tougher. You just can't be seen to be putting both cars at risk with a banzai move. Taking out a rival is far less dangerous.

Robert Kubica gave everyone a timely reminder of just how good he is in Australia, but he'll be hard-pushed to get on the podium in Malaysia. Unless the rains come down. For his team-mate, Vitaly Petrov, just getting the car to the end will be a result. Though as the Malaysian GP is normally the most energy-sapping endurance test of all the 19 races, it's going to be quite a voyage

Jenson Button is unlikely to win again in Malaysia, but come the end of the race, if the drivers have to park their cars and helmets and finish one more lap on foot, then my money's on Jensinho. That'd be worth an ice cream or two.

Andrew Davies

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